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A Lifetime of Art: At 91, Rena Storey displays her portraits in an exhibit at First Baptist Church

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If members of Rome’s First Baptist Church didn’t realize that one of their fellow congregants was an accomplished portrait artist, then they soon will.

At 91, Rena Storey no longer paints, but 18 of her pieces — painted over the years — are on display at the church for the public to see.

The exhibit will be on display for two months.

Rena has been painting since she was 14 years old and said most of her work has been commissions from family or friends. She never advertised or sought commissions. People always came to her.

“I’ve always been fascinated by faces,” she said, when asked why she was had an affinity for portraits as opposed to other subjects. “People are alike. We all have our similarities but we’re all individuals. I’ve always loved those little differences that you can see in a person’s face. Ever since I was young I’ve loved to draw and to read and to climb trees.”

Rena grew up in Rome, not far from the church at which she is now a Life Deacon. She has painted portraits of bank presidents, judges and doctors but said some of her favorite ones have been the children of friends and family.

“I enjoy getting to know the children and their families,” she said. “I feel a connection to them. I love seeing their smiles and painting their portrait brings you a little closer to them.”

The portraits were painted with oils and pastels but there’s also another piece in the exhibit — a photograph— that Rena did not paint. It’s a photo of her as a young girl and was taken as she was climbing nimbly at a friend’s house on Mount Alto when she was about 16 years old.

In the photo, a young Rena smiles with youthful enthusiasm and a joy for life. It’s the same smile she bears today. Even at 91, that smile hasn’t changed.

One of the portraits on display is of her husband, Harold. And there’s even a self portrait she painted in college.

“I painted that one in art class at Hollins [College],” Rena said. “I think I used a mirror to do that one.”

The exhibit will be up for two months on the third floor of First Baptist Church. Tamara Smathers, who is coordinating the exhibit, said Rena’s work is the third exhibit to be on display there.

“We realized that we had this space that was bare and was perfect to display art or photos,” Smathers said. “That’s when we decided that it might be a great place to showcase the talents and gifts of some of our church members.”

She said Rena’s work and all the other exhibits that will be on display at the church will be open to the public and can be viewed any day throughout the week.

For the next two months the space will showcase Rena’s gifts. In a statement about the exhibit she said that painting has been a joy to her and she is grateful for the opportunity to capture the smiles and faces of so many people throughout the years.

“Every person is a unique individual, different from all others,” she said. “My faith experience has helped me to value that uniqueness in each. It has been a real joy for me to have had the opportunity to try to express this individuality in my painting. I am grateful for my parents’ encouragement and the trust others have placed in me. And I have really enjoyed doing it.”

First Baptist Church is located at 100 East Fourth Ave.